The Chinese New Year’s parade in Haikou, Hainan Island, in the South China Sea off the coast of Guangdong Province. Masked old men lead a dragon who dances to scare away last year’s ghosts. The lunar new year falls at the end of January or in February, but Hainan’s sub-tropical climate makes it feel like a summer holiday. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

The island province of Hainan is slightly smaller than Taiwan and located off of China’s south coast in the South China Sea. It is the only part of China that grows tropical crops. As a Special Economic Zone, Hainan attracted foreign investments and experienced brisk economic growth during the 1990s, although recently that growth has slowed.

Hainan, an island province in the South China Sea off the coast of China’s Guangdong Province, covers an area of 34,000 square kilometers. Before 1988, when the island was granted provincial status, it was part of Guangdong Province. The island has dense forests and a mountainous inland with the highest peak, Mount Wuzhi, rising to 1,867 meters above sea level. The coastal regions consist of plains, low hills, and volcanic terraces. The island has a tropical climate, with average temperatures of 22° to 26° C all year, but in extreme cases in the northern part of the island, temperatures may drop to 0° C. Annual precipitation varies; the west receives an average of 1,000 millimeters, whereas the southeast averages 1,500 to 2,600 millimeters and is frequently struck by typhoons.

About 12 percent of Hainan’s population belongs to the indigenous Li nationality. Another important minority nationality is the Miao. The province’s capital, Haikou (2006 population 830,192), is situated on the north shore. Several autonomous counties and townships are concentrated mainly in the middle of the island and on the south coast.

Since the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), the island has technically been part of the Chinese empire, but for long periods the Li evaded government control. During the Song dynasty (960–1279), when emigration from the mainland began, the island became part of Guangdong Province, a status that continued for centuries except for brief periods—during the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) and from 1912–1921 when Hainan enjoyed independent provincial status. In imperial China, undesirable officials were commonly exiled to the island. Hainan was occupied by the Japanese from 1939 to 1945 during the War of Resistance against Japan, and since 1950 the island has been part of the People’s Republic of China.

Hainan is the only part of China that grows tropical crops. Forestry accounts for almost half of the agricultural output. The island also has a big rubber production and coconut farming, and other important tropical crops include cashew nuts, cacao, coffee, pepper, pineapples, bananas, carambolas, longans, litchis, and jackfruits. As one of China’s Special Economic Zones, Hainan attracted foreign investments and underwent rapid economic growth during the 1990s. The economy is mainly based on tourism, which is located on the south coast in the area around Sanya, and light industry, which is concentrated in the area around Haikou, and includes processed rubber and food, electronic articles, and textiles. The flow of outside investment to Hainan subsided drastically toward the end of the 1990s, however, and many unfinished construction sites have been abandoned.

Further Reading

Feng Chongyi & Goodman, D. S. G. (1995). China’s Hainan Province: Economic development and investment environment. Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press.

Kirk, M. (Ed.). (2009). China by numbers 2009. Hong Kong: China Economic Review Publishing.

Matsuura, K. (2001). Marine fauna of the shallow waters around Hainan Island, South China Sea. Tokyo: National Science Museum.

Park, Jung-Dong. (1997). The Special Economic Zones of China and their impact on its economic development. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Schäfer, B. (1992). Die Provinz Hainan, ein Beispel für den raumstrukturellen Wandel in der VR China seit Beginn der 80er Jahre. [The province of Hainan, a model for structural changes in PRC since the beginning of the 1980s.] Munich, Germany: Weltforum-Verlag.

Source: Nielsen, Bent. (2009). Hainan Province. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 977–978. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Hainan Province (H?inán Sh?ng ???)|H?inán Sh?ng ??? (Hainan Province)

Download the PDF of this article